Carrot Beats Stick

The_carrot_and_the_stick_514075WooHoo: You’ve just unlocked the URL of Blogville Badge!

With Hostess becoming as bankrupt as the nutritional information in a Ding Dong and Kodak redefining the Kodak moment of another kind of bankruptcy, I immediately thought of my childhood. Thankfully those cheerful marketing images that blanketed the store shelves were replaced by a different set of images quite quickly: fun.

Today we don’t have to grow up because we don’t need to. In our endless pursuit of fun amid the torrid stream of stimuli, we try to make everything we do have some kind of fun in it. It’s depressing. The psychologists of tomorrow someday may think of the things that count as “fun” today are in reality completely idiotic, like the iFart app on the iPhone or any number of images posted in Facebook.

As I struggle to get to the point, I think this has to do with an over exaggeration on the meaning of gamification. By the way Microsoft Word’s autocorrect hints that the word I really want to use is “gasification.” yuck yuck). I just unlocked the Gasification Badge – literally!

Seriously, gamification is good in concept and practice. But it’s already being stretched past the limits and it is not even out of its infancy. It's an area for concern, because almost everything we do in the future will have some kind of gaming element to it.

I asked two IDC analysts – Alys Woodward (business analytics/collaboration and social) and Bo Lykkegaard (European enterprise applications) about their thoughts on gamification in this video:


Alys said, to paraphrase, that gamification is a great device for incentivization, but that the rewards have to be real. Bo agreed and also went on to elaborate that gamification can lead to productivity – particularly in the HR space, an area notoriously known for neglect (my words) because of the incredibly important reasons that people don’t know how they’re doing and that performance reviews simply don’t get done. In other words, necessary work isn’t happening.

To me, it’s clear: gamification is real and it lies at the intersection between competition and incentivization. In the enterprise and consumer space, this is truly an ingenious concept. And it probably has something to do with creativity being stifled by an overindulging of parent-guided organized activities in children. Creativity has to be free. So why not gamify everything. Irony.

Gamification has the potential to be taken out of context and lead to a false sense of pursuit of what is actually fun.  It’s a danger and we’re on the precipice.

In the consumer space, Foursquare for example is a great gamification app. You can be incented to explore a city and become a Mayor of a restaurant. It’s truly a Hasbro world. But Fourquare also can be gamed, and now you can become the Mayor of “Nowhere.” Check the link – it’s fascinating, and I want to become that Mayor, if I am not already.

In the enterprise though, certain things do not happen, and they need to. Performance reviews do not get done, sales goals are not met, and businesses operate at less than efficient means.

Enter gamification of the enterprise.

Nick Stein of Rypple (a company that has announced intentions to acquire) sent me a link to a slide share on gamification by George Babu, a co-founder at Rypple who has put serious thought into the misconceptions of gamification. R Wang (@rwang0), aka the man who never sleeps, covers everything you need to know about gamification of business in a Forbes blog. His premise is that gamification originated in the video game industry and now has adopted a set of design principles around the user experience, the consumerization of IT, and incentive and behavior management. It’s a top down approach to creating a competitive atmosphere that is also fun. Irony. He also has research that shows that 50 percent of social business initiatives will have a gamification layer next year.

Games - Root

I boil it down to three things:

  1. An evolution of incentivization
  2. Creating a playful atmosphere in an otherwise functional paradigm
  3. Behavior control (or an efficiency mechanism)

Everyone is familiar with the Hawthorne Effect, the late 1920s and early 1930s series of studies that showed worker productivity increased if those workers were psychologically stimulated by being made to feel important.

So what’s the difference? The Hawthorne Effect is exactly gamification. But there were after-effects that impacted the study. The early positive impact: worker productivity increases with this manipulation and the origins of the study of a social enterprise are created. Negative effect: eventually workers feel they are being manipulated to do more work. Although the study is 80 years old, nothing has changed. The exception is that many academics either try to discredit the Hawthorne Effect or say it leads to depression.

You’ve just unlocked a Double Badge. You’re the Mayor of Depression and of Manipulation

Snake Oil

It’s an area that has yet to be fully studied, but it is clear gamification is here and is growing in interest and adoption. It will be done well and it will be an efficient motivator. But gamification also has to be highly adaptable, because there is the potential for it to escape its basic concept of motivation through fun and competition. If it is taken out of context, and it will, people will feel manipulated and therefore resist. Because as much as people like fun, they don’t like being gamed.

Woat! You’ve Unlocked the Mayor of Gamification Badge. Invite your friends.